Friday, March 4, 2016

Mini Lessons Not Maxi Lessons

My writing block always begin with a mini lesson.  I commit to keeping this lesson to 15 minutes or less.  It takes a lot of work, diligent planning, and keeping an eye on the clock to make this happen! Getting to a point where I could feel comfortable in my mini lessons took two major shifts in my thinking, that I would love to share.

1. A mini lesson is for 1, maybe 2 skills at a time
This was hard for me when I first started teaching.  I felt like to get quality writing, I needed students to understand every skill needed to create a piece of writing.  The purpose of a mini lesson is not to teach every single skill that a child will need to write a narrative, or a how to.  It is so show, model, and expose students to one of the skills within a genre of study at a time.  All of the skills in a genre are necessary and important, but in order to provide time for practice and mastery, it is really best to introduce them 1 at a time.  Another benefit is that by teaching 1-2 skills at a time, you are always going back to writing you have previously done.  In a mini lesson about great beginning, I might start by looking at mentor texts and deciding what makes a great beginning.  Then I might  write a great beginning for the piece we wrote the day before.  To end the lesson, I would go back to a few different pieces and rewrite my beginning for those pieces.  By doing this, I am not only modeling the skill of great beginnings for students, but I am also modeling the natural, recursive process we want our writers engaged in.

2. Mini lessons are mini (not maxi)
When I first started teaching, I found that my lessons would linger on and on forever. This was mostly because I hadn't experienced paradigm shift # 1 (see above). I would try to cram every little detail into a writing lesson, mentor text, the entire gradual release model, practice, grammar, rewriting, and then final independent student was exhausting and left students with maybe 10 minutes to write on a good day.  When I decided to focus on shortening my mini lessons,  I decided I would set a timer, so that I knew just how long I had.  I would watch the timer, shift plans from day to day.  Gradually, as time went on, I feel like I got more comfortable with powerful teaching in such a short time limit.  Now, I dive into my mini lessons, zip through teaching, and jump out so that students have more time to write.  My mini lessons are usually either a I do modeling for the students, or a we do shared writing experience for the students. This shift has created noticeable difference in my writing block.

Mini lessons are powerful tools, if we are using them correctly. They can be a great place for students to see their teacher as a writer, to share ideas, and take risks together, and to turn to other authors for guidance and advice.  It takes practice to create strong mini lessons that are powerful, but the lasting impact of those lessons is worth the time and practice!
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